Sports-related injuries affect the muscles, ligaments or bones (the musculoskeletal system). To avoid recurrent injuries, physicians can identify and help correct an injury’s cause by suggesting appropriate exercise programs and preventative care, as well as surgery when needed.
Sports-related injuries include:
- Ankle injuries
- Anterior cruciate ligament injuries
- Gymnastic injuries
- Knee ligament injuries
- Meniscal injuries
- Muscle strains
- Overuse elbow injuries
- Patellofemoral disorders
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Shoulder instability
- Stress fractures
Ankle Injuries: Ankle injuries are defined by the kind of tissue—bone, ligament or tendon—that’s damaged. The ankle is where three bones meet: the tibia and fibula from your leg and the talus from your foot. These are held together at the ankle joint by ligaments, which are elastic bands of connective tissue. These keep the bones in place while stretching to permit normal motion. There are also muscles and tendons that protect the ankle joint, do the work of making the foot move, and help hold the joint in place. Ankle injuries include fractures, sprains, strains (tendonitis) and tears (tendonosis and subluxation).
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries: An ACL injury is the tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, inside your knee joint. An ACL injury most commonly occurs during sports that involve sudden stops and changes in direction, such as basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball. Immediately after an ACL injury, your knee may swell, feel unstable and become too painful to bear weight. Many people hear a “pop” in their knee when an ACL injury occurs. Depending on the severity of your ACL injury, treatment may include surgery to replace the torn ligament followed by rehabilitation exercises to help you regain strength and stability. If your favorite sport involves pivoting or jumping, a proper training program can help you to reduce your chances of an ACL injury.
Gymnastic Injuries: Gymnastics is a difficult and demanding sport for both men and women. Gymnastics injuries most frequently include strains and sprains, but serious and traumatic injuries can occur as well. An increase in risky stunts makes traumatic head and neck injuries a real concern for athletes, parents and coaches. The large majority of reported gymnastics injuries include overuse injuries from long hours of practice and wear and tear on the joints. Common gymnastic injuries include back injuries, bruises and contusions, muscle soreness, overtraining syndrome, sprains and strains, ankle sprains, wrist sprains and stress fractures.
Knee Ligament Injuries: Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect the bones in your body. Two important ligaments in the knee, the ACL and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), connect the femur or thigh bone with the tibia, one of the bones of the lower leg. But too much stress on these ligaments can cause them to stretch too far—or even snap. These injuries are common in soccer players, football players, basketball players, skiers, gymnasts and other athletes. There are four ligaments in the knee that are prone to injury:
- Mentioned above, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the two major ligaments in the knee. It connects the thigh bone to the shin bone in the knee. ACL injuries are a common cause of disability in the knee. In the U.S., 95,000 people get them every year. They are more common in women than men.
- The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is the second major ligament in the knee connecting the thigh bone to the shin bone in the knee.
- The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) connects the thigh bone to the fibula, the smaller bone of the lower leg on the lateral or outer side of the knee.
- The medial collateral ligament (MCL) also connects the thigh bone to the shin bone on the medial side of the knee.
Meniscus Injuries: A torn meniscus is one of the most common knee injuries. Any activity that causes you to forcefully twist or rotate your knee, especially when putting the pressure of your full weight on it, can lead to a torn meniscus. Each of your knees has two menisci—C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between your shinbone and your thighbone. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness. Your knee might feel unstable, as if it’s going to collapse. Conservative treatment—such as rest, ice and medication—is sometimes enough to relieve the pain of a torn meniscus and give the injury time to heal on its own. In other cases, however, a torn meniscus requires surgical repair.
Overuse Elbow Injuries: Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is an overuse and muscle strain injury. The cause is repeated contraction of the forearm muscles you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. The repeated motions and stress to the tissue may result in inflammation or a series of tiny tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony prominence at the outside of your elbow (lateral epicondyle). Tennis elbow often gets better on its own. But if over-the-counter pain medications and other self-care measures aren’t helping, your doctor may suggest physical therapy. Severe cases of tennis elbow may require surgery.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) is a generic term used to describe pain at the front of the knee, which comes on gradually with symptoms increasing over a period of time. It is sometimes also called anterior knee pain. In general, patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when the patella does not move or ‘track’ correctly when the knee is being bent and straightened. This can lead to damage of the surrounding tissues, such as the cartilage on the underside of the patella itself, which can lead to pain in the region. This injury is quite common in people who do a lot of sport, adolescent girls in particular.
Rotator Cuff Injuries: Your rotator cuff is made up of the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. These muscles and tendons connect your upper arm bone with your shoulder blade. They also help hold the ball of your upper arm bone firmly in your shoulder socket. The combination results in the greatest range of motion of any joint in your body. A rotator cuff injury includes any type of irritation or damage to your rotator cuff muscles or tendons. Causes of a rotator cuff injury may include falling, lifting and repetitive arm activities—especially those done overhead, such as throwing a baseball or placing items on overhead shelves. About half of the time, a rotator cuff injury can heal with self-care measures or exercise therapy.
Shoulder Instability: Shoulder instability is a problem that occurs when the structures that surround the shoulder joint do not work to keep the ball tightly within its socket. If the joint is too loose, it may slide partially out of place, a condition called shoulder subluxation. If the joint comes completely out of place, this is called a shoulder dislocation. Patients with shoulder instability often complain of an uncomfortable sensation that their shoulder may be about to shift out of place—this is what physicians call “apprehension.” Athletes who compete in sports that involve overhead activities may have a loose shoulder or multidirectional instability (MDI). Treatment of shoulder instability depends on which condition is causing the shoulder to come out of joint, and treatments include physical therapy and/or surgery.
Sprains and Strains: Sprains and strains are common injuries that share similar signs and symptoms but involve different parts of your body. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments—the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another in your joints. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Strains often occur in the lower back and the hamstring muscle in the back of your thigh.
Stress Fractures: Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. Stress fractures are caused by the repetitive application of force, often by overuse—such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances. Stress fractures can also arise from the normal use of a bone weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis. Stress fractures are most common in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. Track and field athletes are particularly susceptible to stress fractures, but anyone can experience a stress fracture. If you’re starting a new exercise program, for example, you may be at risk if you do too much too soon.